Haaretz's two chief military correspondents explained the logic of the army's position last week, shortly after Israel killed Jabari. They reported:
"For a long time now Israel has been pursuing a policy of containment in the Gaza Strip, limiting its response to the prolonged effort on the part of Hamas to dictate new rules of the game surrounding the fence, mainly in its attempt to prevent the entry of the IDF into the 'perimeter,' the strip of a few hundred meters wide to the west of the fence."
In short, Hamas has angered Israeli commanders by refusing to sit quietly while the army treats large areas of Gaza as its playground and enters at will.
Israel has created what it terms a "buffer zone" inside the fence around Gaza, often up to a kilometre wide, that Palestinians cannot enter but the Israeli army can use as a gateway for launching its "incursions". Remote-controlled guns mounted on Israeli watch-towers around Gaza can open fire on any Palestinian who is considered to have approached too close.
Three incidents shortly before Jabari's extra-judicial execution illustrate the struggle for control over Gaza's interior...
On November 4, the Israeli army shot dead a young Palestinian man inside Gaza as he was reported to have approached the fence. Palestinians say he was mentally unfit and that he could have been saved by medics had ambulances not been prevented from reaching him for several hours.
On November 8, as already noted, the Israeli army made an incursion into Gaza to attack Palestinian militants and in the process shot dead a boy playing football.
And on November 10, two days later, Palestinian fighters fired an anti-tank missile that destroyed a Jeep patrolling the perimeter fence around Gaza, wounding four soldiers.- Advertisement -
As the Haaretz reporters note, Hamas appears to be trying to demonstrate that it has as much right to defend its side of the "border fence" as Israel does on the other side.
The army's response to this display of native impertinence has been to inflict a savage form of collective punishment on Gaza to remind Hamas who is boss.
Fourth Culprit: The White House
It is near-impossible to believe that Netanyahu decided to revive Israel's policy of extra-judicial executions of Hamas leaders -- and bystanders -- without at least consulting the White House. Israel clearly also held off from beginning its escalation until after the US elections, restricting itself, as it did in Cast Lead, to the "downtime" in US politics between the elections and the presidential inauguration.
That was designed to avoid overly embarrassing the US president. A fair assumption must be that Barack Obama approved Israel's operation in advance. Certainly he has provided unstinting backing since, despite the wildly optimistic scenarios painted by some analysts that he was likely to seek revenge on Netanyahu in his second term.
Also, it should be remembered that Israel's belligerence towards Gaza, and the easing of domestic pressure on Israel to negotiate with Hamas or reach a ceasefire, has largely been made possible because Obama forced US taxpayers to massively subsidise Israel's rocket interception system, Iron Dome, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Iron Dome is being used to shoot down rockets out of Gaza that might otherwise have landed in built-up areas of Israel. Israel and the White House have therefore been able to sell US munificence on the interception of rockets as a humanitarian gesture.
But the reality is that Iron Dome has swung Israel's cost-benefit calculus sharply in favor of greater aggression because it is has increased Israel's sense of impunity. Whatever Hamas' ability to smuggle into Gaza more sophisticated weaponry, Israel believes it can neutralize that threat by using interception systems.
Far from being a humanitarian measure, Iron Dome has simply served to ensure that Gaza will continue to suffer a far larger burden of deaths and injuries in confrontations with Israel and that such confrontations will continue to occur regularly.
Here are the four main culprits. They should be held responsible for the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis in the days and, if Israel expands its operation, weeks ahead.